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I want a perfect wedding, but my in-laws are trashy

I want a perfect wedding, but my in-laws are trashy


Cary’s archival column from FRIDAY, SEP 28, 2007


My future husband’s 38-year-old brother and his pregnant 20-year-old girlfriend: Yikes!

Dear Cary,

I am thrilled to be getting married this spring to a wonderful man. My fiancé proposed last winter, and we have been planning our wedding for over a year. This is a big deal for us. We started dating in 1999, and have lived together since 2001. We have struggled financially in the past, dealt with harrowing layoffs, college loans, illnesses and the loss of our beloved dog to cancer. Now we are finally in a place where we can have a nice wedding and share our commitment with our family and closest friends.

This should be the happiest time of my relationship, but I am struggling with an issue. My fiancé’s 38-year-old brother and best man has shacked up with a 20-year-old single mother who grates on my nerves. His brother met her through his ex-girlfriend’s daughter’s GED program. Seriously.

But it gets odder. She has just informed us that she is pregnant again, and will have the baby in time to bring him to our wedding. Now they are getting married too, possibly before the baby or immediately after. Translation: around the same time as our wedding. She keeps saying things like, “I’m not trying to upstage you guys, but we’re so excited!” She is beside herself with joy. She’s also leaving her job to go on government assistance. And she expects her new in-laws to help pay for everything.

The best man has children from his first marriage whom he has no relationship with, and is “really trying to make a go of this one.” He is very open about the pregnancy’s being an accident but wanting to do the right thing. I commend him for that; however, I am saddened and cannot process why people feel the personal need to populate the world with more children than they can obviously handle. I’m pretty sure it was intentional on her part, and she’s just a kid looking to “play house” or get a “meal ticket.”

I am also appalled that the pregnant girlfriend is so determined to interfere with our little wedding. I have been very positive and congratulatory to them, but their conduct is very hurtful to me. I know my fiancé loves his brother and will embrace his new nephew with love. We both will, but neither of us can understand their relationship. I also try to be respectful of them for my fiancé, even though it is often very difficult. Now I feel like I am involved in a “Jerry Springer” episode against my will. I just want to have a nice wedding. Does that make me a selfish Bridezilla?

Ultimately, I am not sure how to get past this. Do I have to be the bigger person at my own wedding? We weren’t planning on inviting kids, but she has made it clear the new baby will come, invited or not. I waited a long time to get married to the right person for all the right reasons. I cannot help being critical of my new sister-in-law, but I don’t want to be pushed around by a pathetic, attention-seeking 20-year-old, either. How do I deal with her without being a sucker or seeming like a total bitch by being honest and direct with her?

Baffled Bride-to-Be


Dear Baffled Bride,

I must admit to you, honestly, I am very sensitive to the implications of family condemnation, of the looking-down-upon that happens in families, of “white trash” implications. I am sensitive to these things because of where I come from and what I have been through. Think of it as though I were a screw-up-type person and you were writing to me telling me that there is a screw-up-type person who wants to come to your wedding, and bring her child, and you are upset and angry about this and you want my opinion. I would say, well, as kind of a screw-up-type person myself, uh, I kind of identify with these folks!

No offense to recovering screw-ups. But I am, in my heart, that screw-up, that outsider, a person who has struggled mightily to gain respect, to live a good life, not always doing it with great grace or dignity or skill, often messing up and finding myself shamed and wanting. And yet I want to be at your wedding, too, if I am in your family. I want to be considered equal with others.

We are the scruffy ones you see at weddings off in the corners, scandalously ill-dressed, smoking or taking drugs to deal with the feeling of exclusion, trying to maintain bravado but feeling the clean and well-scrubbed scorn of the in crowd, feeling as usual not good enough, relegated to the margins. I identify with these people you would like to exclude. And in my happy little wedding movie, they get some love too. They get to feel as if they count, as if they are a part of the family too, screwed up as they might be.

That’s the happy little movie I play in my head when things get dark and tough. I’m not asking for your sympathy. I’m doing OK now. I know it’s just a happy little movie in my head, and a sentimental one at that, filled with patriotic hogwash about diversity and welcoming the stranger to the table. I’m just saying that you don’t ever really know who you’re talking to. You know, how the king goes out into the countryside disguised as a beggar. You can’t tell. So to be a virtuous bride, a princess, if you will, what you do is you welcome everybody with a big, generous heart and a bride’s beautiful, radiant love.

That’s what makes for a joyful wedding, that spirit. And it comes from you. You set the tone.

A joyful wedding is a celebration of family. This future brother-in-law of yours, and this future sister-in-law, they are family. As such, they want to be welcomed to your wedding and to be treated with love. That is what we expect from family.

From the standpoint of those of us who may not live up to the standards of other more prosperous and well-behaved members of the family, that is great. At least we can be a part of something. At least we can be accepted. It means a great deal to us. You cannot know what we have been through, how sharply we ache to be a part of this family, how keenly we burn with rejection, how deep the knife cuts. You cannot know what this young woman has been through. You cannot know. All you can do is love these people and welcome them to your wedding.

Write for Advice





  1. Cary, I feel you have a special soul, with sensitivity and heart.

    In this situation, I do not agree on your take on this prospective bride’s situation.

    Poor does not equal white or any other color of skin, nationality, etc. as supposed trashy people, in my opinion.

    Oh, God…how I have witnessed some peoples’ struggles with drugs and alcohol. Some have been close friends that died premature deaths, which the word loss cannot even describe the pain for all involved.
    The quality that all these wonderful people had…thru their suffering….was heart, and trying…desiring to repair their lives thru 12 step programs and therapy. Yes, they might have fallen off the wagon, more than once…but their core being contained kindness acute awareness about others, despite the fog of drugs or alcohol.

    I have seen some despicable behavior towards others from supposedly respectable people….that are emotional disasters and actually enjoy hurting others. Poor has nothing to do with it.

    My concern here is what this woman….the bride-to-be may be overlooking, concerning a truly dysfunctional family she is marrying into, and the horrible suffering, she might be blind to. Something doesn’t smell/feel right to me. No one has a crystal ball, for sure. But, respect of healthy boundaries, caring about this engaged couples’ challenging history, should not be ignored by anyone. And, her prospective in-laws are OK with this upcoming scenario?

    To this bride to be, here are my words of caution: Hold off on having your wedding. Give these other people their day in the sun.
    Go to their wedding, celebrate their special day But, beware if your prospective husband cannot support your mutual choice of not wanting anyone’s children at your wedding. Wait. Look. Listen.
    You will be marrying him AND his entire family. That is the truth.
    This is a time, in my gut, for you to proceed with caution.
    If you are marrying a guy that will let others trample on you and your hopes, plans and dreams…maybe it’s time to just EXHALE. And watch how this drama unfolds, by stepping aside.
    Observe more with your gut and mind. Playing Pollyanna to a heartless crowd is dangerous stuff.
    You are sensing potential danger, in my opinion. Slow down, wait, observe your man and his family dynamics.
    Trashy is not what you are picking up. It can be potentially some heavy stuff, if this family mistakes your kindness for weakness.

    I am sensing your need for self preservation. I personally respect and honor that.
    You need to find out how cruel and toxic this family may be. It has nothing to do with being money poor, but soulfully empty.
    If you are feeling fear more than disgust….respect that primal warning and wait some more.

    Cary, I think the desire to hurt others is something to learn about. And a couple needs to be just that. FRIENDS AS WELL AS LOVERS.
    And for the possible bride to be…get TOXIC PARENTS by Harriet Lerner. You read it first and have your man read it. And, then discuss it together with a qualified, EXPERIENCED therapist.

    Again, I support your concerns…but the ball of yarn has many tangles in it. This has to do more than a pregnant 20 year old, with not much life experience or healthy boundaries. I can’t wrap my mind around the whole scenario, but all the other adults give me pause for concern.

    Take your time, go inward and God Bless you on this challenging journey, you have yet to fully grasp or understand yet.

    • I realized after writing my first comment, that this letter was written in 2007. I feel passionate about what I communicated. I would really like to hear how this couple is today, years later. Sorry, everyone, my heart is sincere, but my timing is off. I hope their lives have worked out well

  2. Cary, my reaction before I read your answer was Well Cary will tell this bride It’s your special day, you can graciously disinvite these people. Then I read your answer and felt ashamed at my lack of understanding and compassion. Not just in this situation but in the bigger picture. You are right. We just cannot make assumptions. It really is all about love and compassion. Thank you!

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